Harold’s fantastic post rightly emphasizes that those who grouse at a few hours’ unexpected arduous labor should think about the lives of those who do it every day.
Harold stresses the policy implications of this: a decent society would do much more to provide those who labor with good health care, occupational safety, an adequate wage, and retirement security. But there’s something more we need to do: give regular, prominent and explicit recognition to everyone who does a necessary job of not particularly high status. To my mind, doing this and meaning it is the difference between real leadership and a baron by some other name giving orders to people he or she thinks of as villeins.
Let’s not flatter ourselves: those of us on the Left, broadly speaking, don’t always do this better than than our counterparts on the Right. (A bleg to prove me wrong follows after the jump.) I’m not sure I know of a socialist or even liberal version of the practice as convincing as Patton’s—real, not sanitized—speech before the Allied invasion of Europe.
[Warning: Being an actual WW II Army speech, this contains lots of profanity. The text is after the jump.]
An Army is a team. It lives, sleeps, eats, and fights as a team. This individual heroic stuff is pure horse shit. The bilious bastards who write that kind of stuff for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know any more about real fighting under fire than they know about fucking! We have the finest food, the finest equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world. Why, by God, I actually pity those poor sons-of-bitches we’re going up against. By God, I do.
All of the real heroes are not storybook combat fighters, either. Every single man in this Army plays a vital role. Don’t ever let up. Don’t ever think that your job is unimportant. Every man has a job to do and he must do it. Every man is a vital link in the great chain. What if every truck driver suddenly decided that he didn’t like the whine of those shells overhead, turned yellow, and jumped headlong into a ditch? The cowardly bastard could say, ‘Hell, they won’t miss me, just one man in thousands.’ But, what if every man thought that way? Where in the hell would we be now? What would our country, our loved ones, our homes, even the world, be like? No, Goddamnit, Americans don’t think like that. Every man does his job. Every man serves the whole. Every department, every unit, is important in the vast scheme of this war. The ordnance men are needed to supply the guns and machinery of war to keep us rolling. The Quartermaster is needed to bring up food and clothes because where we are going there isn’t a hell of a lot to steal. Every last man on K.P. has a job to do, even the one who heats our water to keep us from getting the ‘G.I. Shits’.
…One of the bravest men that I ever saw was a fellow on top of a telegraph pole in the midst of a furious fire fight in Tunisia. I stopped and asked what the hell he was doing up there at a time like that. He answered, ‘Fixing the wire, Sir.’ I asked, ‘Isn’t that a little unhealthy right about now?’ He answered, ‘Yes Sir, but the Goddamned wire has to be fixed.’ I asked, ‘Don’t those planes strafing the road bother you?’ And he answered, ‘No, Sir, but you sure as hell do!’ Now, there was a real man. A real soldier. There was a man who devoted all he had to his duty, no matter how seemingly insignificant his duty might appear at the time, no matter how great the odds. And you should have seen those trucks on the road to Tunisia. Those drivers were magnificent. All day and all night they rolled over those son-of-a-bitching roads, never stopping, never faltering from their course, with shells bursting all around them all of the time. We got through on good old American guts.
Many of those men drove for over forty consecutive hours. These men weren’t combat men, but they were soldiers with a job to do. They did it, and in one hell of a way they did it. They were part of a team. Without team effort, without them, the fight would have been lost. All of the links in the chain pulled together and the chain became unbreakable.
Though I admire the speech, it has some problems. The biggest one is that I had to do my own sanitizing—not of profanity, but of Patton’s particular flavor of social Darwinism. Unlike him, I don’t want “yellow cowards” to be “killed like rats” so that they don’t “go home after this war and breed more cowards.” Beyond this, the speech obviously was very macho and failed to recognize women (though at the risk of getting in trouble, I think that the latter is largely excusable in this context: yes, Patton could have recognized Rosie the Riveter as well as women keeping households going on the home front, but it’s probably bad psychology when talking to a team—in this case an Army of all-male combat troops—to recognize too many people who are not actual members of that team). Given that WW II troops were segregated, it also failed to recognize Blacks, and Patton would probably not have felt like recognizing them if they had been there. And the social Darwinism, which is actually obtrusive in context, reveals a shortcut that Patton didn’t have to take but—being Patton—did: building up the team by tearing down those of its members who can’t live up to expectations.
Consider this a bleg. I’m looking for a left-of-center speech that does as well as Patton, or better, by the following criteria: (1) like Patton’s, it displays eloquent and concrete respect directly to those who do unglamorous but crucial work (not abstract or ideological calls to solidarity or hatred of the ruling classes but direct appreciation for the work done); (2) it includes, or at least does not conspicuously exclude, any group of people involved in that work; (3) it manages to make successful team members feel good without showing contempt for the weak or incapable.
Ideally, I’d also like the speech to recognize—as Marxists often don’t—the fact that managers and other professionals are also essential parts of the team. (While I can’t stand academic administrators who get paid very well for doing nothing, the few true financial wizards at UCLA who keep the university going in spite of massive cuts deserve nothing but praise, and I don’t mind their being paid more than I am: if not for them, I wouldn’t get paid.) But given that managers and professionals get a lot of respect as it is, I’ll settle for (1) to (3). Any suggestions (preferably as links, so the comments will still be readable)?